Lords of Chaos (2018)


When watching Lords of Chaos, you’ll find yourself repeating these three words: this actually happened.

Here it is, my first non-horror review for CineDump, but that’s not entirely accurate. That’s because this new black metal nightmare from director Jonas Akerlund is an utterly horrific descent into the dark void of the soul, and the subconscious terrors that lurk there.

Written by Akerlund and Dennis Magnusson, Lords of Chaos tells the “almost” true story of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, which formed in the 80s and was one of the founding groups of Norwegian black metal. As the film states in its opening, Lords of Chaos is “based on truth, lies, and what actually happened”. Following the founder of the band, Euronymous (Rory Culkin), the film allows viewers a peek into the darkness that revolved around Euronymous and his bandmates, which eventually led to violence, church burnings, and murder. Akerlund has heavily been involved in documentaries throughout his career, while Magnusson has frequently explored sinister stories, making the two a perfect pair to tell us what really happened with Mayhem in the most entertaining, sickening way possible.

It cannot be understated how truly magnificent Culkin is in Lords of Chaos. Our introduction to him, told through a rare and unobtrusive voiceover, lets us know that he claims to be Euronymous, a demon of destruction whose sole point of existence is to cause chaos and suffering. “This is my story, and it will end badly”, Euronymous lets us know. And holy shit is he right. But Euronymous is not the monster we might initially think. He’s nice to his sister. He’s kind of a dork. And even if he pretends to be an evil genius, he doesn’t actually believe in it, nervous about the mere possibility of violence. At one point, he says nothing, like a coward or decent human, you decide, after a guy bumps into him at a party and makes him drop his beers. Culkin brings a softness to the role, this feeling that he wouldn’t hurt a fly, which perfectly contrasts with his big talk and strong attempts at sounding like the anti-Christ incarnate. As the film goes on, we as the audience know less and less to trust what he says, as do his followers.


But like so many of us chasing a dream, Euronymous finds himself reeling after the sweet kiss of success, more like the fucking kiss of death, letting his morality slip further and further as the situation becomes more out of control. Culkin’s character wants to scream from a mountain top, but instead, he’s stuck at the bottom, where no one can hear him. So, what does he do? He begins acting like the Trump of Black Metal, the Jim Jones to his followers, inciting violence with words he never means, like when he says, “when people hear our music, we want them to commit suicide”. There’s no question he doesn’t believe that. I keep mentioning lines of dialogue here, because I want to make it clear just how much of a dipshit hypocrite Euronymous really is, and how well Culkin brings that aspect of the character to life.


Lords of Chaos consistently brings up the word poser. Scene after scene, we see kids desperately wanting to fit in. They’re so lost, that all they want is to be accepted and heard, and being called a poser is the most offensive language these pig-blood drinkers know. It also creates the real monster, Varg (Emory Cohen), played with such devious intensity that you will swear Cohen is the devil himself. Varg at first is just some kid who Euronymous calls a poser and unknowingly creates a challenging foil for himself down the road. Varg questions Euronymous and his commitment to the evil which he touts, turning the whole thing into an escalation of affronts against the church and society, none of which Euronymous wants. But that’s why Lords of Chaos is so fascinating. Euronymous is the real poser, creating monsters through the power of his false idolism, leading to a two-hour journey through hell and depraved madness unlike anything else you will see this year. Euronymous invites evil in, and evil gladly accepts.

Lords of Chaos lives in violence. But unlike the grindhouse age of films which were bloody as hell and extremely over-the-top, the ugliness here is real, raw, and terribly uncomfortable. When the plot does begin to inevitably turn from church burning towards murder, Akerlund somewhat unexpectedly takes the film to another level of evil. Powerful, despicable violence bleeds onto the screen, with awful murders which go beyond the typical slasher stabbings. Those are mere paper-cuts compared to the torment which victims in this film suffer at the end of a blade penetrating their flesh at least twenty times, maybe more. Lords of Chaos is shocking. It’s tragic. And no matter how badly you might want to look away, it’s impossible to ignore the powerful realism of Lords of Chaos and the hell which it depicts. It’s like that saying, when you look into the void, the void looks back into you, and believe me when I say, you will feel the eyes of Lords of Chaos and the satanic members of Mayhem staring back into you.

Shot with stark contrasts of white and black and beautifully unholy images of church burnings and the dark rituals of followers ready to leap at a single command without explanation, Lords of Chaos is a beast of a film, ripping through independent cinema with a black metal scream that will make your ears bleed. Akerlund’s film will sit with you long after blackness swallows the screen and the credits role. Metal fans and film fans alike should make sure to run, not walk, and get their hands on a copy of Lords of Chaos as soon as possible, or risk looking like a poser. You don’t want to be called a poser, do you?

Matt Konopka